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See Eric Kraft in the Topical Guide.
See Peter Leroy in the Topical Guide.
See Mark Dorset in the Topical Guide.
front page review
When that review came out, Kraft and his wife, Madeline
(“Mad” or “Maddy”) thought that his “career” as a writer, an artist, a
writer of fiction, was “made.” Kraft already knew that he was going
to be writing the Personal History forever — that is to say, for as long
as he was able to go on writing it — but this review made him think that
he might actually be able to set aside his day job and work at nothing
else. False hopes, alas, but before I get into that, just join me
for a moment in savoring with Kraft the pleasure of it, because it was
a pleasure for him, a very great pleasure.
A couple of weeks before the review appeared, or maybe only a week before, a young woman called him from the Times to arrange for a photographer to take some shots of him in the Boston Public Garden.
“I’m probably not supposed to tell you this,” she said at the end of the call, “but it’s going to be a front-page review.”
Maddy was out of the apartment at the time, and for a while Kraft thought that he wouldn’t tell her about the front-page possibility, because he had learned already how often things that are supposed to happen to one’s advantage do not. That resolve fell apart as soon as she walked through the door.
“The Times called,” he began, grinning the grin grinned by the Cheshire Cat . . .
When the review actually did appear on the front page, it was followed by a flurry (and note the word, flurry, not blizzard) of interest. Other papers reviewed the book prominently, a profile of the Krafts as a “hot couple” appeared in a Sunday supplement, and Steven Spielberg’s company at that time, Amblin’ Entertainment, called. The review did not, however, lead to sales, and nothing came of Amblin’s interest. Herb ’n’ Lorna never went into a second printing, and to this day (Sunday, May 18, 2003) sales have been so small that the modest advance ($10,000) has not been repaid (and so, of course, Kraft has never earned a royalty from it).
Boston, Sunday, May 29, 1988
See Hope in the Topical Guide.
Bill ’n’ Edna
Bill and Edna are, respectively, Eric Kraft’s father-in-law
and mother-in-law, William and Edna Canning.
On June 5, 2002, Kraft received an e-mail that read, in part: “In l988 I purchased one of your books because the title caught my eye. My name is Herbert and my wife’s name is Lorna. There were too many coincidences to let it go at that. I also drove Studebakers and Lorna and I both do crafts but, alas, not of the—um—interesting variety. The dedication in the book was to Bill and Edna. Bill was the best man at our wedding and I at his. His wife, Edna, was a high school classmate and a good friend.”
It was signed “Herb and Lorna Hurd.”
See Coincidence in the Topical Guide.
the phenomenon known as supersaturation
Several times, when I was a boy, I tried to grow crystals. Once, I think I recall, I had a kit of some kind that promised a dish full of crystals of dazzling color, and another time I tried to follow directions to grow crystals of salt or epsom salts, and many times I tried to grow crystals of sugar — rock candy — on a string suspended in a supersaturated sugar solution. Looking back, I think that I was fond of the notion of supersaturation because it suggested a superior state, just as, in my teens and early twenties, I often tried to create for myself a supersaturated state of stimulation, suspending myself, as it were, in a solution of music, words, ideas, drugs, alcohol, and self. I never succeeded in growing crystals, owing, I believe, not to a failure to achieve a supersaturated solution, but to the presence of an adulterant.
Remembrance of Things Past
Proust’s title for his masterly exploration of time, memory, and neurasthenia, Á la recherche du temps perdu, is better rendered into English as In Search of Lost Time. Aren’t we all in search of lost time? I, for one, have long thought that the attempt to recapture my bygone days, or at least some of them, would make the ideal occupation of however many days I may have left to me after I finally attain what in Spain is called jubilación, the release from work that Americans call retirement. I yearn for that time. I suppose that I am in search of future time that I can employ in the search for lost time.
In Search of Lost Time
One never knows, do one?
Thomas “Fats” Waller is often credited as the author
of lyrics that he sang, as if he had written those lyrics, in the way that
an actor, particularly a cinema actor (or cinemactor, as Time magazine
used to call them), is often credited as the author of the lines that he
or she speaks, although most of the lyrics to songs associated with Waller,
including “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Honeysuckle Rose” were written by Andy
Razaf, Waller’s longtime collaborator (tunes by Waller, lyrics by Razaf).
However, when Waller was performing a song, he often altered the lyrics
and added asides that commented on a lyric or even the entire song, as
he did at the end of “Your Feets Too Big,” which was written by Ada Benson
and Fred Fisher (and Feets is apparently the spelling Benson and
Fisher wanted, not Feet’s). After he had sung the Benson-and-Fisher
lyrics, including “Your pedal extremities really are obnoxious,” he added
“One never knows, do one?” Isn’t this an example of making a claim
to authorship through elaboration?
(By the way, “Your Feets Too Big” was also recorded, years after Waller’s version, by Chubby Checker, who included Waller’s tag line, and, in 1962, by the Beatles, who did not include it. [Available on the CD The Beatles Live at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany, 1962.])
The Very Best of Fats Waller
The Beatles Live at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany, 1962
See Dorset Diagram in the Topical Guide.
stuff ’n’ nonsense
See Humor in the Topical Guide.
For years, I tried to avoid writing this book.
For years, I tried to avoid writing this
book, if it may be called a book or if it ever becomes a book. I
had other plans. They were big plans, and I suppose that it was their
bigness that kept me from ever putting them into effect. I planned
to write a topical autobiography, an encyclopedic exploration of my life
and times. You can see, I’m sure, if you give it even a moment’s
thought, what a grand and difficult undertaking that would have been.
I would have produced, had I succeeded, one man’s view of an era, with
the intimate details of the man’s personal life as it had been lived during
that era, so that the discerning reader would know not only what had happened,
but to whom it had happened, and what effect it had had on the very observer
who was reporting it. Yes, yes, I hear you crying, like a mockingbird,
“Pepys, Pepys, Pepys,” but
my work would have had the singular advantage of being arranged topically,
encyclopedically, so that a reader could dip into it anywhere, pursuing
the topics that particularly interested him or her and, through an ingenious
(forgive me for applying the word to my own idea, but it really was ingenious)
system of cross-references,
follow a singular pathway through the events, ideas, and emotions that
composed my life and times.
I never quite got around to it.
I accepted this commission to annotate the work of my friend Peter Leroy (without pay, you understand) only after refusing it many times over many years. I realized that if it were done properly it would occupy all the time that I might otherwise have given to the composition of my topical autobiography. I agreed at last when my twin darlings, Margot and Martha, pointed out three facts that I suppose should have been obvious to me: that I would certainly enjoy the work once I was at work on it, that it would be a labor of friendship, and that it would be a way of thanking Peter for having inroduced me to them. It was only after I had accepted the commission that I understood that I might use this space to include at least some of what I would otherwise have put into the topical autobiography.
See also Writing in the Topical Guide.
The Diary of Samuel Pepys
The Diary of Samuel Pepys
the animated erotic jewelry industry
When I began writing Herb ’n’ Lorna, my intention was to write the dual biography of two people so ordinary in the eyes of the world that no one would have thought them worthy of a biography but their biographer, who had loved them so much and so well that he had commemorated them in this way. I had in mind a cover that showed a crowd scene, perhaps a crowded sidewalk, with two indistiguishable people circled, the way people are circled in group photos to identify them, but they would not be identified, and they would not be identifiable, since their heads would be turned slightly away or down. However . . . as I worked, it became clear to me that Herb and Lorna were hiding something. It was almost as if they were grinning at each other behind my back, wondering when and whether I would ever find them out. Little by little, I began to understand what their secret was, and then it all came out in a rush, and I sat there at the keyboard as astonished as Peter. I began working the erotic jewelry industry into the story of two apparently unremarkable people, but I was laboring under a new bit of self-deception. I thought that I had invented the animated erotic jewelry industry. When Herb ’n’ Lorna was published, I found out how wrong I was in that assumption. People began sending me examples of erotic gewgaws with movable parts. I have a small collection now, every piece a gift, most from people whom I have never met, except through the agency of Herb and Lorna.
The Art of Erotic Jewelry
The Cabaret Mechanical Theatre
Chomick & Meder
Erotic Netsuke at The Private Collector
May Hopper Castle: born 1906, died 1986 (my estimates). In chess, a player “may castle” only when certain conditions obtain: neither the King nor the Rook involved may have moved before; the King may not castle out of check, into check, or through check; and no pieces of either color may stand between the King and the Rook involved in castling. Whether that has anything to do with the relationship among May, Garth, Herb, and Lorna is anybody’s guess.
U. S. Chess Federation: “Let’s Play Chess”
friend of longest standing
I suppose that this is technically correct, that May Castle had been the friend of both Herb and Lorna longer than anyone else. However, Herb and Lorna must each have friends during their childhood and youth. None of those are even mentioned in Herb ’n’ Lorna, though it seems likely that some of the friendships must have persisted, if only at a distance. I think that their exclusion is an example of the solipsism of the memoirist (and we must always remember that Herb ’n’ Lorna, though it appears to be a biography, is actually a volume in a memoir). “They may have had other friends of longer standing, but I never heard about them, so they can’t have been very important,” he seems to be saying. “I” is always at the center of any memoir, even when the subject under consideration seems temporarily to be someone else.
A wonderful word, it not only names but demonstrates in its spluttering burble the enfeeblement that comes when one is truly astonished, taken by surprise, deprived of speech, struck witless. Webster’s weasels out with “origin unknown,” but the Random House Unabridgedspeculates that flabbergast is a portmanteau of flabby and aghast, and the OED agrees. That would be flabby in the second sense recorded in the OED: “Of language, character, etc.: Weak, wanting ‘back-bone’; nerveless, feeble.” The OED finds it first mentioned in 1772 “as a new piece of fashionable slang” and offers flabbergastation as the action of flabbergasting or the state of being flabbergasted. I am hard put to explain why, in our times, when the outrages perpetrated by one’s fellow creatures grow more flabbergastatious by the day, the word is not more widely and frequently employed.
Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary
The Compact Oxford English Dictionary
people who had been hiding inside my grandparents
A theme: the author (or artist) as other. See The Author as Other in the Topical Guide.
German potato salad
8 potatoes, peeled
8 rashers bacon
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup vinegar
1 cup chopped onions
salt and pepper to taste
Boil the potatoes in a large pot of salted water until cooked through
but still firm, about 15 minutes. Drain, cool and slice.
Fry bacon until crisp and brown. Place strips of bacon on brown paper bag to cool and degrease. When cool, crumble and set aside.
Add the flour, sugar, water, and vinegar to the bacon fat in the frying pan and cook, stirring constantly, to make a thick dressing.
Put the potatoes, bacon, and onions into the large pot. Add the warm dressing and stir until coated. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm.
no one became more sentimental than my old high-school friend Mark Dorset
I was, as the reader who is fully familiar with Herb ’n’ Lorna will appreciate, in an awkward position. I had been entrusted by Lorna and, through her, by Herb as well, with a task that was extremely delicate: informing their only grandson that much of what he assumed he knew about his beloved grandparents was wrong. I think that I am a person who is particularly adept at perceiving and appreciating the emotional states of others. Perhaps I flatter myself, but I think that I could see better than anyone else how agitated Peter was, and I was very reluctant to agitate him further by delivering the news that I had promised to deliver. If I drank too much, it was in the nature of what has sometimes been called (by my parents, for instance) “Dutch courage.” [see below] If I grew sentimental, it was because I am of a sentimental bent; sometimes, at night, when I am lying in bed before sleep, that time of night when we are alone for a while, even if the bed is full, I cannot help thinking of all the people who have passed through my life and will never return to it, and I cannot help but feel the lack of them. Herb and Lorna I count very high among those people because they were so kind to me and pointed the way to my happy, if complicated, life with Margot and Martha Glynn.
Dutch courage. False courage, inspired
by liquor, also the liquor itself. “He imbibes four doses of Dutch
courage . . . Club members gather round and stand him to further applications
of 86-proof pluck” (New York Times Magazine, 3/18/84). Also
called Geneva courage, from the Dutch jenever, gin, and ultimately
from the Latin juniperus, juniper, the berry used to flavor it.
The disparaging use of Dutch [by English speakers] dates to the seventeenth century, when the English and the Dutch were building rival empires. . . . In the United States, the use of Dutch may have been facilitated through confusion with Deutsch, immigrant Germans making obvious targets for verbal abuse by red-white-and-blue-blooded Americans of one or two generations’ standing.
Wicked Words: A Treasury of Curses, Insults, Put-Downs, and Other Formerly Unprintable Terms from Anglo-Saxon Times to the Present
by Hugh Rawson
the Smithsonian Institution
Perhaps it is worth noting that the Smithsonian Institution is not a museum in a single building, but a vast and vastly diverse collection of artifacts housed in many buildings that differ in size, shape, and style; in like manner, the Personal History is not a memoir in a single volume, but a diverse collection of memories, desires, and illusions housed in many volumes of differing lengths wherein Leroy employs a range of styles to evoke a personal history that might have been his.
This coy spelling-out of the word sex has always seemed to me to be a kind of false reticence that is intended to be seductive, whether the speller is aware of the seductive intent or not. The spelling-out says, “I am referring to something that is so powerful that I must not say its name. You and I could have a wonderful time exploring and discovering its secrets, but our exploration and discovery would themselves have to be secrets. That’s how powerful this thing is. Powerful. Dangerous. Thrilling. What do you say? Your place or mine?” In this habit of spelling or whispering taboo terms, as if there were always some innocent within earshot, is revealed the hypocrisy of American prudery, sometimes called, inaccurately, puritanism. This affectation or simulation of prudery has always seemed to me to be a particularly odd perversion: its intent, its underlying motive, is to make forbidden fruit a bit sweeter through the constant reminder that it is forbidden.
much, much more
Foremost among the problems that the composition of a topical autobiography presents is completeness. The usual narrative autobiography never pretends to completeness, or, if it does, the claim is so transparently false as to be nothing more than a plea for a willing suspension of disbelief. A topical autobiography, however, would make a claim in its encyclopedic form to being, in fact, encyclopedic: “comprehensive, all-inclusive, exhaustive.” At times, at night, after I’ve awakened from the first, easy sleep, after Margot and Martha and I have read for a while, after we have made love if it is one of those nights for love in the middle of it, after they have gone back to sleep, when I am lying awake, trying to find a way to lose my wakefulness, I run through, in my mind, the entries that I would have to write for a single letter. Take, for example, n. Nacre, which I would develop as a concept, discoursing on the way we build, as time goes by, layers of self around the child within. Nagasaki, and the horrifying book that my 8th- or 9th-grade science teacher had that included photographs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombing, the image of a woman, her shadow etched on a wall, remaining after she had been vaporized. Naiad, and a catalog of memories of girls glimpsed at the seaside, not omitting the time when I sat at a distance from the water, watching the shoreline through binoculars, and two particularly delectable naiads turned and spotted me spotting them; I waved. Nails, and my fear that as I age my toenails will become horny and hideous. Naïveté, my lingering, which I sometimes consider one of my better qualities. Nakedness, with a discussion of the difference between nakedness and nudity, and a catalog of memories of times, in childhood, when I embarrassed adults by surprising them when they were naked (a memory of my grandmother lingers with particularly stubborn persistence). Names, with a catalog of the names of all the actors in my life and a list of the names I have thought of giving myself if I needed a name other than my own, including the anagrammatic ones: Mort Drakes (a man too much like me to be of much use to me), Dram Stoker (a descendent of the author of Dracula, a moody fellow, habitually dressed in black, subject to persecution paranoia), Mark Strode (private eye), Drake Storm (an actor, or an actor-slash-waiter, possibly gay). Mr. Ad Stoker (an undertaker or a pawnbroker), Mr. Ado Treks (learned, quiet, deep), Rod Strek, M.A. (chairguy of the highly regarded creative writing department at Southwest Midwest University). Nancy. Naomi. Napalm. Narcosis. . . .
I was going to tell it as completely as I could
What, in a personal history (one’s own, as in Peter’s PH
or my TA, or someone else’s as in Herb ’n’ Lorna), is completeness?
I’m going to say that it is honesty in selection. One cannot be exhaustive.
We can never know it all. We can never tell it all. We can
never know a personal history from the viewpoints of all who were involved
or who were witnesses. Nor can one ever recount a personal history
from all those points of view. Every account is a selection.
I think, therefore, that when one promises to “tell it as completely as
[one can]” one is promising to cast a wide net when looking for information
and to select from that information with an even hand.
If I may be permitted to point out a fault in my old friend, let me say that Peter’s idea of completeness seems to be more what I might call “completeness of design”; that is to say, the personal history is complete if it makes a good story. This is a kind of completeness, but it is completeness by design, or completness for effect, not the neutral completeness that would result from a truly evenhanded selection. Everything is there that should be there—to complete the design. Everything is there that need be there—to complete the effect. This is calculation, manipulation, and ultimately distortion. It is why in Herb ’n’ Lorna I find two people who differ in some important—I might even say essential—respects from the Herb and Lorna Piper whom I knew. Is that a fault? I think it is, but I am willing to say that this may be a case of asking for a book that the author never intented to write. When Peter says, here, that he intends to tell their story as completely as he can, he may mean that he intends to make of their story as complete (in the sense of completeness by design or completeness for effect) a work of art as he can. (We could take this as a promise to the reader that he will not consider the book complete until he is certain that it will stand up under repeated readings.) Fine. However, if that is what he is promising, then he might have been more honest if he had called the book Herb ’n’ Lorna: My Version. (And I should note, in fairness, that he says “I was going to tell it as completely as I could,” not “as completely as you would.”)
burned in the Hapgood Brothers’ warehouse fire
The Hapgood Brothers’ warehouse represents, I think, memory;
the fire, therefore, represents forgetting, loss of memory, loss, in short—but
also opportunity and liberation. For a biographer, the loss of documentation,
the loss of the memory that documentation preserves, ought to be an impediment,
but for Peter it is the opposite, as if memory and facts were the shackle
and chain that hold the bird to his perch. Without them, he can soar,
lofted on “supposition and imagination.” Hap + good. Hap as
in fate, luck, or chance. Hap + good = happy accident. In this
case, the accident is happy because it results in liberation from the past.
I find that I must remind myself again and again that Peter’s return visits
to the past (his retours, as he styles them in the preface to At
Home with the Glynns) are not like the efforts to return to what once
was that we think of as nostalgia. These are visits to times and
places that once were familiar (to the point, perhaps, of breeding contempt)
but now are unfamiliar because memory has been replaced by (perhaps not
replaced by, but certainly overwhelmed by) “supposition and imagination.”
After a fire in the memory, the territory that one revisits is less crowded,
more open, more open to intercalation. Where formerly the facts were
packed so tightly in against one another that there was no room to wander,
now there is zwischenraum, and one can roam, and scatter seeds that
will fill the empty spaces with myriads of tangled fancies. Not all
fires are accidents. Some fires are set. The memoirist may
strike imagination against supposition and make a spark.
Note: In the late 1950s, Kraft’s maternal grandparents, Clifford and Erma Lyman, set out to see America in a black-and-white 1957 or 1958 Mercury Voyager station wagon, pulling a green-and-white or aqua-and-white Holiday Rambler travel trailer or motor home, following Cliff’s second retirement. (He had worked as a railway mail clerk, retired from that, and then worked for the State of New York Department of Public Works, and retired from that; Erma worked intermittently for the Dzus Fastener Company.) Before leaving, they sold their house and stored the contents, including all their memorabilia, in a moving company’s warehouse in Babylon, New York. While they were on the road, the warehouse burned to the ground.
See Facts; Imagination, Products of the; Memory; and Memory, Faulty in the Topical Guide.
The facts may be wrong, but I think the spirit is right.
This is a recurring theme in the Personal History, perhapsthe theme. By “the spirit” I think Peter means not some mysterious and mystical animist spirit or “soul” inhabiting the physical entities and phenomena of this world but the essential roles that particular people, places, things, ideas, and events have played in his life, directly or indirectly (the very sort of thing that I would hope to explore in my Topical Autobiograpy, though in a different manner, style, and form). He asks himself, again and again, “What did it mean?” and “What was the point?” and “What effect did it have on me?” His method of research requires him to travel two roads to the past: one is the route of retrospection and the other of reinvention. I don’t want to push this analogy too far, but they could be thought of as two parallel one-way streets, the route of retrospection leading from the present to the past, and the route of reinvention returning from the past to the present. The mind during backward travel is engaged in examination, as in “The unexamined life is not worth living,” an activity that enriches and, if rigorously pursued, ultimately justifies the time spent in remembrance of things past if it leads to the discovery of the essence, the fundament, the heart, the truth of a memory, a person, a place, a thing, an idea, an event. However, there is a very great danger that on the way forward, the memoirist will succumb to the temptation to avoid expressing that essence, or to distort it, to substitute a less honest and less-than-complete expression of it. For what reason? Pick one:
See Facts; Imagination, Products of the; Memory; and Memory, Faulty in the Topical Guide.
From 1985 to 1990, Eric and Madeline Kraft lived in Boston, in the Back Bay. During that time, they held a membership in the Boston Athenæum, and it was their habit to spend one afternoon a week there, choosing the week’s books and then settling into plump armchairs to read journals and “little magazines.” Some of the research for Herb ’n’ Lorna was done there.
The Boston Athenæum
The Studebaker Century
Many of the titles cited as sources throughout Herb ’n’ Lorna do not exist within “the painful kingdom of time and place,” but this one does, as do the others in the following list, which, though never cited in the text, provide a good grounding in the history of the Studebaker corporation and the vehicles they produced, which figure so prominently throughout the Personal History.
The Studebaker Century: A National Heritage
More Than They Promised: The Studebaker Story
Studebaker: Less Than They Promised
Studebaker: The Life and Death of an American Corporation
Studebaker Hawk 1956 through 1964 Photo Archive
Studebaker: The Postwar Years
Studebaker Lark 1959-1966 Photo Archive
Studebaker 1933 through 1942 Photo Archive
Studebaker 1946 through 1958 Photo Archive
Studebaker 1946-1966: The Classic Postwar Years
Studebaker Trucks 1941-1964 Photo Archive
A Century on Wheels: The Story of Studebaker, A History, 1852-1952
I wish you had lived to read it.
I cannot read this line without experiencing an overwhelming
sense of loss. Not only do I feel the loss of May Castle, and the
sadness attendant to her not having lived to read Peter’s tribute to her,
the loss of her as a reader, the loss of the pleasure she would have been
likely to take from the reading, but also, personally, I feel the loss
of all the years that I have wasted in pursuing goals other than those
that I should have been pursuing, doing work other than the work I should
have been doing. Every day, the number of days that, statistically,
remain to me to do what I think I really want to do (that is, write the
Topical Autobiography) dwindles. “Life is short,” I remind myself.
“Make it sweet.” I have written that in a list of reminders.
(“Avoid fried foods,” is another.) Every work day, before I begin
working, I bring the list onto the screen and read the topmost item in
the list, then move it to the bottom of the list. I hope that, in
this way, I will prompt myself to take my own admonishment to heart, act
on the good advice, and thereby make the day a success. I don’t.
I see what the problem is, now. I don’t tell myself how to make the
day a success, what to do to make life sweet. I should be more specific.
To be completely honest, I should tell myself something like, “Write the
entry on Death.” But what a weariness comes over me when I think
of writing the entry on Death. Not because of the topic; the same
weariness comes over me when I think of writing the entry on Fried Foods.
It’s the thought of all the work that would be required, and the thought
of how little time remains in which to do it. If I had started when
I was younger . . .
Reader, if you are reading this annotation at a time in your life when you feel that there is still ample time left in which to do the things you think you ought to do, take my advice: begin now. You needn’t write the entire entry on Death, you know. Write a few words. Write a few words every day. You’ll have quite a bit accomplished by the time Death itself completes the work.
See Fried Foods in the Topical Guide.
The Tummy Trilogy: American Fried/Alice, Let’s Eat/Third Helpings by Calvin Trillin
Presto Fry Daddy Deep Fryer
The Lore of the Fried Clam and a History of the Soft-Shell Clam Industry by Dean and Pamela Merchant
See Small’s Island in the Topical Guide.
Chacallit, New York
If there were such a place, it would be near (or perhaps congruent with) Gloversville. It does appear on a map of New York in an illustrated gazeteer of the United States published in 1956, when Peter would have been fourteen.
See Chacallit in the Topical Guide.
The name of the town
Like Peter, I spent some childhood time in “upstate” New York. I remember the long car ride, begun in the very early, dark, hours of the morning, and I remember being bundled into the back seat of the family car, not really awake, though dressed, and wedged into an area crowded with the gear that my parents and grandparents (who often vacationed together) would need for a stay of two weeks. For my comfort, my mother would arrange a quilt around and over whatever space there was, and I would settle myself into my spot and return to sleep as soon as the car began to move. I would rise up out of sleep from time to time as we made our way westward to New York City and then northward to the summer greenery of the Adirondacks. I can remember some of the place names that were the answers to my mumbled “Where are we?” when I rose halfway to wakefulness: Ossining, Peekskill, Poughkeepsie, Coxsackie, Schenectady, Gloversville, Piseco. The trip was an extended climb from sea-level Babbington to the mountain lake where we camped or stayed in a cottage. Each of the names along the way came to represent a measure of progress, a point on a rising graph. Many years later, when I used to take the Long Island Rail Road to New York with Margot and Martha and return to Babbington in the small hours, drunk on jazz, drowsing in a heap of three, I would use the conductor’s litany of stations as a similar measure of progress: Jamaica, Lynbrook, Rockville Centre, Baldwin, Freeport, Merrick, Bellmore, Wantagh, Seaford, Massapequa, Massapequa Park, Babbington, Amityville, Copiague, Lindenhurst, and, the last stop, Babylon. When I hear the name of any of those towns along the Babylon line now, I feel the motion of the train, and the girls nestling against me, and the pleasant fatigue of a night well spent, and I mentally measure how much longer it will be before we are at home.
Every few minutes the little train brought us to a standstill at one of the stations which came before Balbec-Plage, stations the mere names of which (Incarville, Marcouville, Doville, Pont-á-Coulevre, Arambouville, Saint-Mars-le-Vieux, Hermonville, Maineville) seemed to me outlandish, whereas if I had come upon them in a book I should at once have been struck by their affinity to the names of certain places in the neighbourhood of Combray. But to the ear of a musician two themes, substantially composed of the same notes, will present no similarity whatever if they differ in the colour of their harmony and orchestration. In the same way, nothing could have reminded me less than these dreary names, redolent of sand, of space too airy and empty, and of salt, out of which the suffix “ville” emerged like “fly” in “butterfly”—nothing could have reminded me less of those other names, Roussainville or Martinville, which, because I had heard them pronounced so often by my great-aunt at table, in the dining-room, had acquired a certain somber charm in which were blended perhaps extracts of the flavour of “preserves,” the smell of the log fire and of the pages of one of Bergotte’s books, or the colour of the sandstone front of the house opposite, and which even to-day, when they rise like a gaseous bubble from the depths of my memory, preserve their own specific virtue through all the successive layers of different environments which they must traverse before reaching the surface.
The English word etymology, denoting an account of the history or derivation of a word, is derived from the Latin etymologia, which was derived from the Greek etymología, meaning “the study of the true meanings and values of words,” a combination of étymo(s), meaning “true” and lógos, meaning “word” or “reason.”
The Oughtred Society
Slide Rule Universe
Build a Slide Rule from Scratch
Oxford English Dictionary
The Compact Oxford English Dictionary
The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester
The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester
This is George Chapman, the poet, scholar, an playwright whose translation of The Whole Works of Homer (1616) is the subject of Keats’s sonnet “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer.” “Why hees a what you calt,” appears in Chapman’s play The Blind Beggar of Alexandria. The play also contains the line “None ever loved but at first sight they loved,” which assertion is challenged by the first meeting of Herb and Lorna.
Chapman’s translation of the Odyssey
The Plays of George Chapman: The Comedies
At some point it dawned on me that Peter rarely quotes
or alludes to Shakespeare, and I have wondered why that is so.
I know that he knows his Shakespeare, but for some inexplicable reason
(inexplicable by me and unexplained by him, since when asked he merely
shrugged and said, “I have no idea”) he rarely drags the bard of Avon into
the Personal History. I know that, in my case, I find lines from
the plays coming to mind at moments when they seem apt, without my bidding,
though I am not a frequent rereader of Shakespeare’s work and am certainly
no Shakespeare scholar.
My first contact with Shakespeare came in the fifth grade, when we read Julius Caesar. (Is that still done? Do American children at the age of ten read a Shakesepare play in the public schools?) After we had read the play—silently, on our own, at the rate of a couple of scenes a night, and aloud, in class, taking parts—each of us had to memorize a passage and recite it in front of the class. I chose Mark (!) Antony’s famous lines spoken over the body of the assassinated Caesar:
O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!
Thou art the ruins of the noblest man
That ever lived in the tide of times.
Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!
Over thy wounds now do I prophesy,
—Which, like dumb mouths, do ope their ruby lips,
To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue—
A curse shall light upon the limbs of men;
Domestic fury and fierce civil strife
Shall cumber all the parts of Italy;
Blood and destruction shall be so in use
And dreadful objects so familiar
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quarter’d with the hands of war;
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds:
And Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice
Cry “Havoc,” and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.
I delivered it quite well. Forgive me for saying
so, but it’s true. I had been moved by it when I read it, and I practiced
before delivering it. I went beyond merely memorizing it to an actor’s
level of preparation, the point at which the actor “owns” the words as
if he were bringing them out of his own heart and mind. Don’t scoff.
It’s true that I was only ten, but I understood the speech and felt its
import as I spoke it. My anger rose with Antony’s as I made my way
through the lines. I spat the third line from the end as if I were
giving an order, and I snarled the last two with a sneer, as if I were
revolted by the stink of the carrion men.
“Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war.” The line returns to me every time I open a newspaper. The dogs of war seem to have been roaming the world throughout my life. Is war the natural condition of humankind? Is havoc our hobby? It seems so. And all pity has been choked as we have grown accustomed to our fell deeds.
Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable:
Ate (2 syl.). Goddess of vengeance and mischief. This goddess was driven out of heaven, and took refuge among the sons of men.
Havock A military cry to general massacre without quarter. This cry was forbidden in the ninth year of Richard II on pain of death. Probably it was originally used in hunting wild beasts, such as wolves, lions, etc., that fell on sheep-folds, and Shakespeare favours this suggestion in his Julius Caesar, where he says Até shall “cry havock! and let slip the dogs of war.” (Welsh, hafog, devastation; Irish, arvach; compare Anglo-Saxon havoc, a hawk.)
Three Roman Plays: Julius Caesar/Antony and Cleopatra/Coriolanus
Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
Shakespeare, by Michael Wood
See Human Nature in the Topical Guide.
See Comedy in the Topical Guide.
the first members of the Studebaker family were settling in Pennsylvania
Clemens and Peder Studenbecker, writing from Pennsylvania to their brothers
in Germany, 1737:
Any man who is able and willing to work can make a lot of money here. For a carpenter demands three sh. per day, i.e. one dollar (Cologne money) in your currency. It is the same with the joiner and the mason. A linen weaver gets three times what he receives over there, a shoemaker gets for a pair of man’s shoes six and 1/2 sh. in our currency, that makes two dollars (Cologne money) and 13 fatmen (pennies), and leather sells at the same price as with you. Similarly a blacksmith makes also a lot of money. In conclusion, anybody who is willing to work here can prosper and live well. The rich people, who are eager to engage in commerce, will prosper here.
Complete Text of the Studenbecker Brothers’ 1737 Letter
The Studebaker Century: A National Heritage
More Than They Promised: The Studebaker Story
Studebaker: Less Than They Promised
Studebaker: The Life and Death of an American Corporation
A history of Chacallit published in 1866 says of Kurt . . .
A history of Easthampton, Massachusetts, published in 1866 says of Sergeant Ebenezer Corse, who settled there about 1732:
It is to him that the town is indebted for one of its handsomest streets, (Main Street,) running from the center of the town straight to his house, a distance of more than a mile, he having cleared away the woods for a road. He was a bold, fearless man. It is said of him that he refused to remove to the fort, where the other settlers fled on account of the Indians. But he finally found traces of an ambush which had been laid for him, which convinced him that discretion was the better part of valor, and he accordingly repaired thither for the time being.Nothing is said of Corse’s wife other than the fact that she predeceased him by eight years; nor, I hasten to add, is there any suggestion whatsoever that Corse fell under a cloud of suspicion like the one Kraft causes to darken Kurt Huber’s memory. The history of Easthampton goes on to say:
Other settlers in this neighborhood were Aaron Clapp, Benjamin Clapp, and Benjamin Lyman, a son of the other purchaser of the meadow.The “other purchaser of the meadow” was also named Benjamin Lyman. His son Lemuel had among his children a son named Justus, who had among his children a son named E. Waldo, who had a son named Solon, who had a son named George, who had a son named Clifford, who had a daughter named Dolores, who married Edward Daniel Kraft, with whom she had a son named Eric.
Ralph Waldo Emerson never visited Chacallit
Emerson began lecturing in 1833, at the age of 30, and continued until 1881, a year before his death, when he read a paper at Massachusetts Historical Society on the death of Carlyle.
See Emerson, Ralph Waldo in the Topical Guide.
The Ralph Waldo Emerson Society
Chronology of Emerson’s Life
The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson: Essays and Lectures (Library of America)
Ralph Waldo Emerson: To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men,—that is genius.
Mark Dorset: Perhaps, but it is also the kind of madness that makes benevolent despots, monsters convinced that we would all be better off—would be better people, in fact—if we lived as they want us to live, think what they think, believe what they believe.
Emerson: Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility . . . when the whole cry of voices is on the other side.
Dorset: For great works of art, that may be true. They do teach us the value of grasping a thought when we have one and exploring it until there is no little nook of it that we do not know, and of persisting in the realization of the work derived from that idea even when the work is derided or, perhaps worse, ignored. In all other areas, of life, however, I admire most the people who are strong enough to change their minds, the ones for whom all convictions are provisional, to be revised to accommodate something new, replaced by a better idea, or discarded entirely if they are simply wrong.
Emerson: There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, or worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.
Dorset: How am I to take this? “Be content with your lot?” Is envy ignorance? (Is ignorance the word you want here, by the way, or do you just mean something like foolishness?) Envy can be a powerful motivating force; the little that I have accomplished as a self-reliant unaffiliated scholar has been motivated in part by envy, and I don’t mind admitting it. I have pursued the exploration of my own thoughts, but my motives haven’t been purely intellectual; I have wanted, and sought, the recognition, even the admiration, of my peers. I am against imitation; I’m with you there, Ralph. Original thinkers impress me. And yet, I admire most of all the comprehensive thinker, who manages to weave a new idea into the fabric of human culture, changing the pattern is some striking way but not rending the garment. As for tilling the ground you’ve been given, I think that is probably good advice for most people, but not for me. I suppose that I would be a happier man if I took it and followed it, content with the pleasures of hearth and home, but what I have been given includes a restless intellect, driven to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Emerson: The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray.
Dorset: You seem to be suggesting that we are here so that we can observe the universe. Would you go so far as to say that by observing it we bring it into being, or brought it into being? That sounds like the anthropic principle to me.
Stephen Hawking: The anthropic principle . . . can be paraphrased as “We see the universe the way it is because we exist.”
Emerson: Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.
Dorset: Yeah, yeah. But I am a person beset by self-doubt. That is a part of myself. Am I to trust that part? Or am I to trust some other part, some part of me that is self-confident? I can’t find that part most of the time, so I suppose that I must trust my doubting self.
Emerson: What pretty oracles nature yields us on this text, in the face and behaviour of children, babes, and even brutes! That divided and rebel mind, that distrust of a sentiment because our arithmetic has computed the strength and means opposed to our purpose, these have not.
Dorset: Well, of course not. They are ignorant. Are you trying to tell me that ignorance is bliss? Don’t I know it—and yet I follow knowledge like a sinking star. That is my lot, you see. I abhor ignorance, even in dogs, certainly in children. In adults, I find it inexcusable. I am repulsed by it, sickened by it.
Emerson: Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.
Dorset: Mm. I certainly feel that sometimes. I know that I’m often humiliated by the work I have to take on to make ends meet.
Emerson: The virtue most in request is conformity.
Dorset: Sure. I’m with you there.
Emerson: Self-reliance is its aversion.
Dorset: Okay. I see the point. And perhaps I should be patting myself on the back now for having a somewhat unconventional approach to life, living within society and suffering its assaults on my manhood, but not quite conforming to its customs. I’m a rebel, in my own little way.
Emerson: Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.
Dorset: There’s a nice bit of hope in that. It’s easier to be a rebel in the mind than in the checkout line at the supermarket. I want you to understand, though, that an essential element of the integrity of my mind is doubt, exploration, and the deliberate accumulation of information. We definitely seem to be at odds there.
Emerson: No law can be sacred to me but the law of my own nature.
Dorset: Wow. Do you really mean that? Or is this just some bullshit you like to spout after a few drinks? (I could use a drink right about now . . .)
Emerson: The doctrine of hatred must be preached as the counteraction of the doctrine of love when that pules and whines.
Dorset: Yikes. I’m no fan of puling and whining, but “the doctrine of hatred”? You’re just kidding, right?
Emerson: Do not tell me, as a good man did to-day, of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they my poor?
Dorset: Holy shit. That sounds like the motto of the Republican Party. Did you live in a gated community back there in Concord? With a golf course? I’m more of a no-man-is-an-island guy myself. About that drink . . .
Emerson: The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them.
Dorset: Yes, I guess that’s so, but it isn’t only others who estimate us by our past acts: we do so ourselves. I know I do. I’m proud of what I’ve done, some of it, and disappointed by some of it, and disappointed by the thought that I have not done what I might have done. I measure myself by that, and I don’t think I’m wrong to do so. Only the very young can be measured by their potential. The rest of us must be measured by our deeds. I will grant you though, that I would be happier if I broke from my own consistency . . .
Emerson: A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.
Dorset: Let me jot that down. I was going to say that I should break from my consistency in the sense that I should abandon the writing of little commentaries on human behavior and instead write the topical autobiography that I have been yearning to compile, but something keeps me from doing that, some flaw in me, perhaps . . .
Emerson: I suppose no man can violate his nature.
Dorset: Thanks. Thanks a lot. I’ve got to go. I’m meeting Margot and Martha for cocktails. It’s Happy Hour, Ralph.
Traveling is a fool’s paradise.
I used to believe this, or tried to convince myself that I believed it. What I actually believed was that traveling is expensive and dangerous. I couldn’t afford to travel—couldn’t afford either the time or the money. I used Emerson’s assessment of the value of travel to explain my aversion to it and to belittle the urge in others.
There was also the fact (which Peter brings up later in Herb ’n’ Lorna) that I was for a while afraid of flying.
That fear should probably have an entry of its own in my topical autobiography, but I will just say here that I was surprised and pleased to discover, after I had published two or three of my books, that the fear of flying had left me. I made the discovery one day when I was alone in my home office. In my privacy I had taken a copy of each of the books down from the shelf above my desk and arranged them beside me to admire them. I took the set in one hand and hefted it. My work. Three weighty books. My work amounted to something. My potential had become actual. I had done something. Even in my own eyes, I was somebody. I ought to be embarrassed, I suppose, to admit to the elation I felt, the warmth and comfort that pride in my own accomplishment brought to me. Perhaps I am embarrassed, but I feel compelled to admit it. I was proud of myself, and, I realized when I began to think of accepting an invitation I had received to lecture on human motivation at a university in Spain, I was no longer afraid to fly. I hefted the books. I examined my emotions. The books. The absence of fear. The two were connected. I realized then that I had not been afraid of flying, specifically. I had been afraid of dying unfulfilled. I had been afraid of dying without having accomplished anything that I thought I ought to have managed to accomplish in the time allotted to me. Now I could see that I had, in fact, accomplished something. I had wriitten my three books, and in accomplishing that, I had also released myself from my fear. I accepted the invitation, Margot and Martha and I traveled to Spain, and we have been accepting invitations ever since.
I suppose I drink too much. When I was younger, I often drank far too much, so I suppose I’ve learned moderation. Drinking ought to have an entry of its own in the topical autobiography, but this paragraph would belong not in the entry for drinking but in the entry for being drunk; perhaps it would be an annotation to the entry for drinking. I have been drunk after working to become drunk, deliberately drinking beyond what I know to be the limit that will induce a happy high and congenial loquacity. Usually, when I am drinking at a social gathering, or even at a professional gathering like the annual convention of the Unaffiliated Psychosocial Historiographers of America—UPHA (“oofa”)—my goal is to attain what Margot and Martha call “intalksication,” that level of inebriation at which one seems to have an unwonted facility for expressing one’s thoughts in a manner so magnetic and compelling that the listeners gather round, enchanted and impressed. However, there have been times when I have, again quite deliberately, gone beyond that point, and I think that my motive for doing so is to reach a level at which I keep my thoughts to myself. There have also been times when I have continued to drink beyond the happy limit by accident or from an excess of high spirits and reached a point at which I burn to share my thoughts by express them in an incoherent babble that has earned me a surprising reputation for being, as one hostess put it, “really funny when he’s got a few drinks in him.” When I’ve gone too far, for whichever reason, I sometimes reach a point at which the power of my legs to sustain me in the upright, human, posture deserts me. At such times, departing the party with one arm across Margot’s shoulders and the other across Martha’s, I sometimes quip, “You see the wisdom of ‘marrying’ twins!” which may be another of the contributing factors in my having acquired a reputation for being really funny when I’ve got a few drinks in me.
The Craft of the Cocktail by Dale DeGroff
Hoffritz 16-Ounce Chrome Cocktail Shaker
Oneida Chrome Cocktail Shaker
Riedel Vinum Martini Glasses
See Beauty in the Topical Guide.
The Beauty of Chaos
The Computational Beauty of Nature
The Snowflake: Winter’s Secret Beauty by Patricia Rasmussen and Kenneth George Libbrecht
Unsigned Beauties of Costume Jewelry by Marcia Sparkles Brown
The Art of Erotic Jewelry by Claude Mazloum
remarkably similar terms
In the pairing of these passages from the real Emerson and the fictional Huber we have an example of the essence of Peter’s style. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe we have only an example of a flourish in his signature. Michael Wood draws the distinction:
A literary signature [is] the visible shorthand for a literary person; a style [is] a more complex but still legible trace of that person’s interaction with the world. Writers usually have more signature than style, I think. Signature is their habit and their practice, their mark; style is something more secretive, more thoroughly dispersed among the words, a reflection of luck or grace, or of a moment when signature overcomes or forgets itself. . . .Hmm. Signature or style? What I see in the pairing of these passages—and I see it again and again throughout the Personal History—is the presentation of an alternative to reality, an alternative to history, a fiction expressed with precisely the weight given to reality and history, and in remarkably similar terms. The idea that the products of the imagination are equivalent to, and not very different from, the data of experience is asserted everywhere in the Personal History. In fact, the entire work could be thought of as the fictional alternative to an unwritten work of equal size that would be equivalent to it and not very different from it: the personal history as lived rather than the personal history as imagined. Yes. It is a habit of thought. It is a way of interacting with the world. Some people examine life as they live it; Peter reinvents it as he lives it. That continual reinvention, the lifelong fabrication of alternatives to the livelong day, is the essence of his style.
It’s not that style is always or simply better than signature. The signature may be wonderful and the style quite modest. But the style will always be stealthier . . .Michael Wood
The Magician’s Doubts: Nabokov and the Risks of Fiction
Second World War; World War II
I have to say that this slip surprises me, and I attribute it to Kraft, not to Peter. He first writes “Second World War” and then a paragraph later writes “World War II.” Either he was uncertain about which is the preferred form (World War II) or he is guilty of the sin of “elegant variation,” which Fowler condemned in these words:
It is the second-rate writers, those intent rather on expressing themselves prettily than on conveying their meaning clearly, and still more those whose notions of style are based on a few misleading rules of thumb, that [oh, how I wish you had made that that a who, Mr. Fowler] are chiefly open to the allurements of elegant variation. . . . The real victims, first terrorized by a misunderstood taboo, next fascinated by a newly discovered ingenuity, and finally addicted to an incurable vice, are the minor novelists and the reporters. There are few literary faults so widely prevalent, and this book will not have been written in vain if the present article should heal any sufferer of his infirmity.PURCHASE OPPORTUNITIES: